The Wagner Society has celebrated Wagner's birthday (22 May) every year since 1981, first with a supper of typical German food and wines, then by many annual dinners with guest speakers which in 1995 became luncheons at the Women's Club, and more recently by champagne toasts following a recital at the Goethe Institut.
It was always our ambition to go to Bayreuth. Numerous inquiries about obtaining tickets were always met with negative replies. Our friend, Richard King, the owner of the Print Room Gallery, had attended Bayreuth numerous times by travelling with Lufthansa German Airlines and obtaining extra tickets by standing patiently outside the Festspielhaus waving a little banner. It was not until our friend Jenny made us aware of the Henebery Personal Tours (Opera and Music Festival Holidays) in Oxford that our hopes were raised. In 1980 we were allotted three tickets through them to three Wagner operas.
Many years ago, last century (1967), when I was on the typical “working holiday”, a couple of years after leaving school, I was living and working in London. One evening I lined up at the English National Opera to obtain “standing room” tickets (10/-, at the rear of the stalls) for Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nuremburg”. An opera, I believed was the favourite opera of my father, in Sydney. In those days, communication was either by letters, aerogrammes, or, if you were very technologically up-to-date, by sending reel to reel tape recordings.
As part of the occasional remembering of the Society’s history under the Swan Lines logo, we reproduce here from the Society Newsletter No. 4 September 1981 the invitation from Jean Louis Stuurop, on behalf of the committee, to attend an “Alternative Bayreuth” at the Concordia Club in Stanmore, Sydney, starting on 18 October 1981 with 'Der fliegende Holländer'. From this small beginning a major tradition of our Society has grown.
Thinking back over the 40 years of the Wagner Society in NSW made me realise that it has been part of my life for almost the whole of that time – at first in attending events and more lately organising those events – talks and concerts, and seminars, and promoting young singers and working out the processes by which we can assist them, by approving the applications for funding from young and emerging singers and creatives.
Through the wonderful synchronicity of life, a chance remark opens doors and creates a new realm of experience. Dr Leonard Hansen, making his first visit to Bayreuth in 1980, asked the Lufthansa staff if they knew of other Aussies making the pilgrimage, preferably someone who had been there before. My friends at the airline mention Murray Smith and me as regular visitors, although we were not booked for that year. We already knew Leonard through our work, but we were unaware of his interest in Wagner.
Our Newsletter editor, Terence Watson, has scoured our Newsletters and produced a list of committee members and officeholders and related historical information from the Society’s beginning to the present. I had hoped that we could also publish a complete list of all the Society’s members, from Betty Maloney (member number 1) to Tim Green (our newest member, number 933), but unfortunately our recent past includes a period in which records were misplaced or destroyed, and this has not been possible.
A special event was held at 2.00pm on Sunday 23 May 2021 to celebrate 40 years since Wagner lovers met in Bayreuth and agreed to start a Wagner Society in Australia.
A Wagner-Liszt piano recital by Tamara-Anna Cislowska preceded keynote speaker Richard King and Wagner's birthday drinks and celebration of the Society's 40th anniversary.
The original 'swan' logo of the Wagner Society in NSW which is pictured below was designed by founding member Michel Arnould at the Foundation meeting on 26 October 1980.
It appeared in our Newsletters from 1981 until 2012.
In Memoriam: Joseph Ferfoglia
I heard third-hand, a few months ago, that Joseph Ferfoglia had died. I met Joseph and his second wife, Judy, through the Wagner Society, and we became good friends in a period late in their lives, before the slow descent into old age shut them off from the world. I thought I should gather together some of the fragments I recall of Joseph (and Judy), in a vaguely chronological order, so that they weren’t lost, at least for a little while.
In the Wagner Quarterly 158 (September 2020), new President Esteban Insausti used his first report to say a little about himself, as well as attempt to explain why he has been a member of the Society for some 33 years (joined in 1987 – member number 433):
I first visited Bayreuth in 1954 and again in 1955 with my wife, Aviva. We had just finished our university studies in Perth, WA, had married in Sydney and were off to London in late 1953 as soon as we had saved money for the boat fare. It was like sailing into heaven. The rich concert life, the theatre, the prospect of Bayreuth, of live Furtwängler concerts, created a sense of youthful euphoria which lasted 2½ years before we returned to Perth and the sun.
As part of the Newsletter's ad hoc project to record aspects of the history of Wagner performances in NSW and people's personal experiences within that larger history, I am pleased to bring you a reminiscence from Mr Phillip Bennett, retired of Taree:
Growing up in a small country town during the mid to late 1940's wasn't exactly an ideal place to develop a love for the music-dramas of Richard Wagner. Books on the subject would have been almost non-existent, as were recordings. There certainly weren't any society lectures and I doubt if many people in the town would have heard of Richard Wagner let alone be familiar with his music.
We are pleased to be able to present another chapter in our continuing occasional series on the impact of Wagner on the lives of people in and around Sydney. This issue’s story is from a now retired singer who worked for many years with the Australian Opera as well as in overseas companies. As with Phillip Bennett, Kevin Mills stumbled onto Wagner at an early age and was also transformed for life by the experience.